New Orleans yaks it up on “The Goodnight Show”

“My very first Mardi Gras is where it all started,” says John Calhoun, host of “The Goodnight Show with John Calhoun,” New Orleans’ own live, monthly late-night talk show.

At 24, he moved to New Orleans from Denver. The embracing spirit of Carnival inspired the formerly shy Calhoun to try out different personas and costumes, and eventually he decided to explore these characters further on stage.

Calhoun attempted “serious poetry” at open-mic nights at the Dragon’s Den, but it wasn’t until he began performing as Castagna — a fictitious character who admired his own image, read journal entries about his narcissistic adventures and lived with his mother — that the audience responded with praise and laughter.

“People found the energy of this character very entertaining; it was an unusual way to perform comedy,” he said.

For the next few years, Calhoun developed other one-man shows, putting ideas to songs and creating offbeat costumed characters for the stage.

Anyone who meets John Calhoun will notice his warm smile, charm and quirky and cheerful nature. Over time, he became deeply involved in local urban farming and community activism.

In 2002, he founded the New Orleans Food Co-op, which now has a store at the New Orleans Healing Center.

For about a decade, Calhoun didn’t have much time to perform, except for the occasional fundraiser in the role of a high-energy auctioneer backed by a band. He was happy to serve his community, but he occasionally wished there was a way he could also use his gift for performing.

Then in May, after leading an auction for the Hollygrove Market, he thought, “It would be fun if New Orleans had its own talk show, but have it be done in a New Orleans way and feature our town’s culture.”

This was the light-bulb idea. He immediately enlisted his auction band and then comedian and head writer Duncan Pace. By August, they had staged the first show.

“The Goodnight Show with John Calhoun” follows many of the conventions of the traditional late-night talk show: Calhoun, as charming host, opens with a humorous monologue and interviews guests from a desk-and-couch set; Ben Ellis has perfected the role of deep-voiced announcer; and Steve Walkup and the Goodnight Show Orchestra entertain the audience between segments.

The show also features comedy sketches: Between guests, the Goodnight Show Players — Kate Becker, Peter Orr and Jon Mayhue — act in commercials for the show’s real sponsors, such as Doerr Furniture, Satsuma café and Gerkin’s Bike Shop. It’s reminiscent of the good old days when “Saturday Night Live” was still reliably funny.

But “The Goodnight Show” is more than on-stage entertainment. Each show is taped, and Calhoun plans to release all episodes on the Web or TV. He hopes the show will grow into a New Orleans institution featuring local icons, musicians, comedians and community heroes.

“I had a vision for the show and the picture was diverse, appealing to all of New Orleans. I wanted to have well-known guests as well as people who are doing important work in the community,” Calhoun said.

Guests have included John Boutté, Poppy Tooker, Dwight Henry, Wilbert Rawlins Jr. and Drew Ramsey.

The show on Feb. 27 at Cafe Istanbul, 2372 St. Claude Ave., will feature Carl LeBlanc of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Karen Gadbois from The Lens, and Ronald Lewis, founder of the House of Dance and Feathers.

Tickets are $10; doors open at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, call (504) 975-0286.